Luxury Hotel’s Impact on Protected Valley Raises Concerns

þjórsárdalur

The company building a luxury hotel and baths in the protected Þjórsárdalur valley has yet to negotiate payments for water usage at the site. The Icelandic Institute for Natural History called it a mistake to permit the development, as it entails disturbing the landscape. The company building the hotel is a subsidiary of the Blue Lagoon and holds a 40-year lease on the land.

The hotel and baths are being constructed within a protected area, on a plot owned by the state. The company Rauðukambar ehf., a subsidiary of the Blue Lagoon, is leasing the 130,000 square metre plot for just over ISK 400,000 [$3,000, €2,800] per month. Payments to the state for water usage are yet to be negotiated.

Prime Minister’s Office authorised construction

Since the construction is on public land, it was subject to the approval of the Prime Minister’s Office, which has authorised the project according to the conditions of the protected area. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir herself was present at the official start of construction, digging the first shovelful into Rauðukambar mountain alongside the mayor of Skeiða- og Gnúpverjahreppur municipality, where the hotel will be located, and the developers.

The hotel is being built into Rauðukambar mountain, reportedly to minimize its visibility. The Icelandic Institute for Natural History has stated its opinion that the hotel and baths do not comply with the objectives of protection of landscapes and natural monuments as they cause irreversible damage and change the natural landscape.

In Focus: Tourism Development in Protected Areas

The parent company of the Blue Lagoon is also constructing a luxury hotel in a second protected area in the Icelandic Highland, Kerlingarfjöll. According to original plans for the area, the new hotel was to be one of the largest not just in the Highland, but in all of Iceland. The ambitious nature of the project raised concerns about environmental degradation and in 2015, the Icelandic Environment Association (Landvernd) appealed the construction, the first stage of which had begun without any environmental impact assessment.

Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Skaftá River

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Skaftá river in South Iceland, the Icelandic Met Office reports. The water level and flow rate in the river began to increase last night and increased electrical conductivity was also measured. Rangers in Hólaskjól also reported smelling sulphur in the area. The National Police Commissioner and Department of Civil Protection have issued an uncertainty phase due to the event.

The last glacial outburst flood in Skaftá occurred two years ago, in September 2021. Floods in Skaftá are sourced from two ice cauldrons beneath Vatnajökull glacier which usually burst one at a time, but it is possible that this flood is sourced by both the western and eastern cauldrons, according to the Met Office. The 2021 glacial outburst flood was sourced by both cauldrons.

Risk of floods and gas poisoning

There are several hazards associated with such natural events. Firstly, flood conditions are expected in Skaftá river over the next two to three days and some flooding of roads near the river is possible. Secondly, hydrogen sulphide is released from the floodwater as it drains from the Vatnajökull ice cap. The gas is particularly potent at the ice margin, where it can reach poisonous levels of concentration. Travellers are advised to stay away from the edges of Skaftárjökull, Tungnaárjökull, and Síðujökull, where floodwater could burst through the surface. Lastly, travellers on Vatnajökull should stay away from the region, as crevasses will develop rapidly around the ice cauldron.

The cauldrons that source the glacial outburst floods in Skaftá drain every two years on average, producing floods of up to 1,500 cubic metres per second.